First Line: Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we?
Sum It Up In One Sentence: Essun journeys to rescue her daughter from her murderous husband while the world and civilization are flung into chaos thanks to a giant earthquake style event.
I’m going to do this review a little differently than I normally would. I’d usually dive into the plot, giving a little more detail than what is given in the book’s synopsis. I don’t often give spoilers, but I like to give a little more to the story to help people understand where I am coming from regarding my thoughts. However, this book has some elements that if I go into any more detail than the publisher, I could spoil some things for future readers, and I’d hate to do that. So here is the synopsis from Goodreads.
This is the way the world ends. Again.
Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.
There is a lot happening here, and it does take some time to get into the plot. As the opening line suggests, we are thrust into the cataclysmic event and its effects. We are given a lot of different terms that aren’t really defined. It’s a bit of a puzzle for a time. However, once things get moving and all the pieces come together, it is riveting.
While there are a few characters that we meet and follow, Essun is our main point of contact. She has just lost her son in a horrific fashion. It’s because she is an orogene, one of the people who can essentially commune with the land and cause geological shifts. It takes mastery and control, something often learned at the Fulcrum, in a class setting. It’s also hated and feared by those who do not contain this power. Of course, that does not mean they don’t use and abuse those with this power. And it turns out that Essun hid this fact about herself from her husband, and her son genetically gained the trait. His young age, only two, did not have the capacity to control it. So we first find her, heartbroken over the loss, and it is such an emotional rollercoaster. It is rendered so beautifully and heartbreakingly with Jemisin’s writing that I often found it painful to read as a mother of young children. She sets out to track down her husband since he took her daughter as well. Essun is so emotionally well developed that you feel right along with her.
I will not be discussing any of the other POV characters for spoiler reasons, but know that each is emotionally well developed and interesting. Beyond that, the secondary characters are also very well done.
The chapters that we follow Essun are told in the second person! It is such a rare thing, and usually for good reason. How awkward it is to say “you did this” when speaking of the character in the book that is clearly not the reader. It seems a bit off-putting, but the narrator’s style makes it work. They are very sardonic and poignant, and it fits Essun’s storyline so well.
My only complain, and this is really just me, is that this is marketed as fantasy. I can certainly see the fantasy elements. Orogeny can easily be described as a type of magic. However, there are other parts, such as these giant obelisks floating in the sky, that give me major science fiction vibes.
This book is also wonderfully diverse in the respect that the majority of the characters are black or have very dark skin tone. I believe there is also a character that is essentially albino. We also have bisexual characters. The author is also a black woman. So if you are looking to diversify your reading, this is a great choice. The world is a diverse place. Our literature should show the same.
Because of the nature of the telling, jumping right into the action, there isn’t a lot of explanation in regards to the world, orogeny, or the seasons until a little later. It took me around 50 pages to have a better grasp of the situation. It was still a lot to process, and for some reason, the book felt like it was a lot longer than it was. That being said, the prose is magnificent. I love Jemisin’s style, particularly the interesting second person point of view. The major plot is there, but it is all driven by fantastic emotional character delivery, and that makes for great storytelling. I am very curious to see where the story leads, and luckily the trilogy is completed so I could binge if I wanted. I would like to think the later books won’t suffer as much from the lack of information, but I also know there will be a shift in the storytelling style.
7 out of 10
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Release Date: August 4, 2015
Format Read: Kindle
Category(s): Fantasy, Dystopia, African American
Pages: 468 (Paperback)
Series(?): 1 of 3